Scientists discover new legless lizard species in California

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California
scientists have discovered four species of
legless lizards hidden in unlikely habitats
among central valley oil derricks, sand dunes
at the end of a Los Angeles airport runway
and other arid and desolate spaces.
The findings, announced in a publication of
the Museum of Comparative Zoology at
Harvard University this week, brings the
number of known snake-like lizard species
living in California up from one to five.
"The main thing this is showing is that right
here in California ... there is actual natural
animal diversity that we don't know about
yet," said Theodore Papenfuss, a reptile and
amphibian expert with the University of
California at Berkeley's Museum of
Vertebrate Zoology.
Papenfuss and geologist James Parham from
the California State University Fullerton led
the research, spending 15 years searching the
state for the slithering creatures, their quest
fueled by a hunch that at least one relative
of California's legless lizard species, the
Anniella pulchra, existed nearby.
One of the research team's discoveries was
in the protected El Segundo Dunes that butt
up against the end of a Los Angeles
International Airport runway. The yellow-
bellied creature was named A. stebbinsi,
after herpetologist Robert C. Stebbins, who
studied natural life in a local mountain range.
The three other newly identified species were
found in the San Joaquin Valley, over 200
miles to the north, where they likely lived for
millions of years, Papenfuss and Parham's
research showed.
The silver-bellied A. alexanderae was found
in the oilfields near the city of Taft, the A.
campi, with a yellow underside, was found in
three canyons at the outskirts of the Mojave
Desert, and the purple-stomached A.
grinnelli, was discovered in a handful of
vacant lots in downtown Bakersfield, a city of
352,000.
The animals, named after notable UC
Berkeley scientists, were distinguished from
other similar identified species using color
patterns, number and arrangement of scales
and vertebrae, and genetic testing.
All had been collected before and preserved
in museums and laboratories, but their
distinctive markings and genetic makeup was
never examined, and they were thought to
have all belonged to the same group as
Anniella pulchra, Papenfuss said.
The research team is in discussions the
California Department of Fish and Wildlife to
determine if the newfound lizards require
special protections, Papenfuss said.